• all of who we are

    Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

    A reflection for a meeting this morning, of a highly complex and demanding committee…

    One of the great gifts that working in the prison gave me was the demand to learn to live with complexity. The oh-so-human tendency to categorise people in terms of oppositional binaries – labelling one as good, and the other as bad; one as right, the other as wrong; one as evil and the other as virtuous – falls apart when you sit across the table from someone who has done unspeakable horror, and yet who shows exquisite gentleness in the way they treat a fellow prisoner with mental illness.

    My brain breaks every time i go into the prison, from trying to hold the dissonances in place, until i can almost physically feel it cracking until the binaries bleed into each other, and slowly dissolve.

    One of the reasons i started studying psychology was to understand why that’s at the core of being human – why we need to define ourselves and others so quickly. It’s a simple reason: the brain is overloaded with sensory input every day, and we need to make shortcuts. Oppositional binaries and broad categories are the easiest way to do it. If we didn’t do that, we would not be able to function effectively. But the pay off is that we function effectively, and inaccurately. We have to compromise.

    When i go into the prisons, one of my core tasks is to lead meditation. And i start with a reflection that includes the following words:

    In this space and time
    all of who we are
    is welcome.

    You can bring the broken, darkest parts of you
    the parts which strive to be beautiful
    and those which are nothing but flawed

    and put them next to mine.

    as together
    we let them be shaped
    by the presence of love.

    [As a diversion, the reason i stay working for the church is because it forces me to do that – to live with complexity – when i would rather do anything but.]

    The prison has taught me the gift of owning our complexity and our flawed-ness. Of letting ourselves be more than the story the world knows of us.

    We bring to this table we’re meeting around, all of who we are.
    This is both our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.

    We will have come with priorities
    that we might barely be aware of
    urgent expectations that we haven’t yet identified
    with raw nerves that surface, unbidden
    at unexpected moments
    with fragilities unacknowledged and unwanted
    that we have learnt only sometimes successfully
    to mask

    This is both our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.

    Tied inextricably to those,
    we will have come with questions
    that don’t yet have words to shape them
    we will bring experience that we haven’t yet valued
    and knowledge that we take for granted.

    This is both our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.

    but what will make this a highly functioning committee
    what will produce our best work
    is if we acknowledge and embrace our own complexity
    our incongruities and contradictions
    our uncertainties and expectations
    if we let them be on the table too.

    Let me finish with a prayer or a blessing or a poem that brings that to the table.

    In this space,
    all of who we are is welcome,
    and all of who we are is needed.

    so in the silence,
    name to yourself what you bring to the table:
    your strengths
    your failures
    your capacity
    your weakness

    let those things sit alongside all that your neighbour brings.

    and let it become part of the gift we can be.

    casting out demons

    Monday, February 2nd, 2015

    I so don’t want to end up in a situation where i’m doing an exorcism tomorrow in the prison. Or where I have to turn one down.

    With that disclaimer, this is a prayer of thanksgiving and confession, to go alongside Mark 1:21-28

    we thank you for this extraordinary world
    and its reminders of resilience, grace, hope and life:
    for when grass shoots break through concrete
    when the sun emerges after storms
    for when people offer laughter in deep sadness
    In these moments we see glimpses of who you are –
    and we are grateful.

    Yet if we reduce you to being like the cycle of nature
    or the best of humankind,
    we diminish your power to make the impossible real:
    to break apart the impenetrable evils of oppression,
    to cast out the very real fears that paralyse us
    to banish the insidious demons of judgement and worthlessness

    Forgive us God when we do not trust you to deal with the unspeakable awfulness in our lives and world.
    In the silence we name the parts of our lives and our world that we believe are
    too broken to ever be made whole

    Leader: Cast out our demons, Lord,
    People: Make us new again

    Forgive us when contribute to the brokenness of the world and the lives
    of people around us.
    In the silence we name the things we have done that separate us
    from you and from others

    Leader: Cast out our demons, Lord,
    People: Make us new again

    Forgive us when we trust darkness more than we trust your light.
    In the silence we name the things we think we need to keep hidden.

    Leader: Cast out our demons
    People: Make us new again

    Scripture says that those who are in Christ are a new creation;
    everything old has passed away;
    see, the new has come!

    Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
    ‘Your sins are forgiven’

    People: Thanks be to God.

    what will you do with this one wild and precious day?

    Friday, January 16th, 2015

    Someone wrote the title of this post as part of a note they left on my desk – a riff from Mary Oliver’s poem.

    How you live your days is, after all, how you live your life.

    What will i do with today? I will write reports, work plans, help someone I manage with some workflow interventions, plan a discussion I’ll be running in a prison next week, sort out some budget issues, think about how we better manage some communication issues in a very stressed environment, scope next steps in a number of projects, and start enacting some of them. I will troubleshoot numerous issues; I will swear under my breath [and out loud] at the cruelty of people to each other, and be amazed by the courage, resilience, humour and imagination of my colleagues. I will read documents and reports from some new areas of responsibility, and write dozens of questions in their margins that will expose my ignorance and then add to my knowledge. I will feel depressed and hopeful, simultaneously and exhaustingly. I will write a project outline for a new type of tour, and think of solstice spaces for the middle of winter.

    I will daydream of long trips to iceland, book writing, poetry and phd’s, and try again to learn some icelandic diphthongs. I will list again the myriad of possibilities swirling in my mind about how i want to spend the next three years, and feel grateful for the privilege of choice in my life.

    I will peruse the Guardian and Age websites, and facebook, and maybe even twitter, over and over again, even though nothing much will change, just to clear the front of my brain for the deeper subconscious space it requires.

    I will drink coffee, wine, laugh with my amazing niece, tear up when i remember friends who are going through really tough challenges, get angry at the world and myself, remember that i am inadequate and unfinished, and still be pleased when i manage something well.

    And if i have time, i will buy shoes.

    That’s how i will spend this one wild and precious day.

    I wish it was more poetic. I wish i had the luxury of my old role, where i spent days crafting pieces of writing, and imagining new spaces, and where every intention was to fill the world with beautiful things. And yet, this is what it’s like to take responsibility: to now be the one who has the opportunity to curate a work space for those coming after me that honours their unique talent.

    I wish this one wild and precious day, and this month and this year, was more blog worthy. But it’s not. So while posting has been sparse over this last year, i know the gaps between them will be even greater through this next. And this post is to draw the line and remove that responsibility from myself, to leave space for whatever comes next.

    [plus: gratuitous iceland photo. because it’s beautiful]


    Advent 1 – practice being ready

    Thursday, December 4th, 2014

    For the prison this afternoon:

    It doesn’t matter whether or not you can have faith;
    whether or not you are cynical or despairing,
    hope-filled or hope-less:
    what matters to God is simply that you are here.

    We are entering the time of Advent,
    in preparation for Christmas.
    Advent reminds us that if God is to be born again
    in the most ordinary parts of our world and our lives
    that we need prepare for it.

    We need to make the space in our lives
    where love might be born.

    Welcome to this tiny corner of a harsh and dark world.
    Together, let us practice being ready
    in the faith that Christ will come.


    Thursday, November 6th, 2014

    Reasons why I want to thank Eve for eating the apple:

    Imagine a world where there was only a garden
    every day

    where knowledge existed only of what was right in front of you

    no need to make choices
    no need to weigh up the bad and the not so bad
    the good and the brilliant

    no need for the wisdom
    that comes from understanding my own choices
    and potential
    and nuance
    and courage

    no need for Breaking Bad
    or The Wire

    no need for the generosity of forgiveness
    for the richness and depth that comes from letting someone be more,
    and letting ourselves let go

    imagine never tasting an apple
    or apple pie
    or apple cider

    imagine never needing to understand consequences
    and existing with the not knowing
    of what I am capable of
    and what I am missing out on

    imagine never needing to attempt to understand another person
    and what drives them
    and never needing to imagine another person’s world
    and to acknowledge how limited my imagination can be

    no need to experience my own limitations
    and to test them beyond themselves

    no need ever to move beyond here.

    you’re still there

    Thursday, October 30th, 2014

    It seems there is a different ‘hardest thing’ every day.

    Today it was that you didn’t remember that we really had fun last night

    but sometimes it’s that you don’t remember you rang just before, and just before that, and before that,
    first thing this morning,
    and asked the same question
    to which i gave the same answer I gave yesterday,

    and i will next time you call, too.

    The other day it was that you didn’t remember that you loved cappuccinos
    or that salmon was always your favourite
    and that you would never have ordered pasta

    [though i loved that while we were eating,
    you whispered to me that you’ll always vote labour,
    till you die.
    ‘Anyone but that Tony Abbott’, you said again, wrinkling your nose with familiar distaste]

    Sometimes it’s that you don’t remember your son, the one who died all those years ago,
    in the car accident
    [yes, that was him, yes, it was terrible]
    and your grief becomes raw again
    because it’s brand new, every day.

    Sometimes the hardest thing is that look on your face
    when you’re confused
    and trying so hard not to let on

    and when you craft a memory from threads that were never meant to be sewn together
    and declare adamantly that this is truth
    from which nothing can detract or divert you,
    and we find ourselves defending things that would be indefensible
    except they never happened to begin with.

    And sometimes you make a joke
    that’s so sharp
    and so quick
    it makes us laugh with relief and surprise
    as much as humour
    ‘you’re still there’
    we realise.
    thank god.
    thank you.

    the gates of hope

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

    I used to stand at the gates of hope
    calling to those who walked past
    till i was hoarse
    speaking with truth,
    bearing witness to grace

    and then either I moved
    or hope did
    and i find myself
    where i can’t
    for the life of me
    see it anymore.

    I’m sure it’s there
    [i’ve not given up on it!]
    it just must be hidden
    behind the seemingly impermeable walls
    of self-righteousness
    or optimism
    or wilful ignorance
    where i seem to find myself

    Perhaps if i stop looking
    and stand still
    for long enough
    hope will find me

    or maybe I will finally hear the voice
    I’m sure is there
    – hoarse, no doubt, and croaky –
    calling truth and grace to me
    from its gates.

    i just don’t know

    Friday, October 24th, 2014

    i am perhaps in danger
    of holding agnosticism as fiercely
    and with the same tenacious commitment
    that would not let me
    let go
    of faith
    when it had had its time.

    and i wonder again whether it matters
    [this belief or its absence],
    and what it is in me
    that simply can’t decide.

    when it isn’t a crisis

    Friday, October 17th, 2014

    It’s been a while! Much happening in non-public spaces… but this one’s for Amy, and for Jill, and for Sarah, and for David, who all said in the last couple of weeks, ‘will you update the fricking blog already’…

    What if it isn’t a faith crisis.
    What if leaving it all behind holds
    nothing of crisis,
    just liberation.

    Like being born into a new human-ness
    that you want to honour
    as deeply as you’ve honoured
    every god you’ve believed in.

    What if it seems that the others are having the crisis
    with their need to squeeze you into
    the labels they hold so dear,
    as though you being there
    can validate their need to stay true
    to what you no longer believe

    but it’s like living in clothing
    that simply doesn’t fit,
    the dress that isn’t quite right
    so you have to keep adjusting
    wriggling into
    pinning up
    and tying on.

    Why would you?

    And maybe leaving that behind has made you more human
    and more alive
    than you’ve felt before.
    Like this matters:
    this one fragile existence
    with its very real ending
    and its very hard truths.
    And maybe leaving that there, for others to hold,
    gives you empty hands to grasp all that’s left to live.

    in spite of us

    Thursday, April 24th, 2014

    Things that make me want to have faith:
    the idea that a resurrected life isn’t blemish free:
    it bears witness to the world’s wounds.

    This is for the prison this afternoon.

    In spite of our doubts,
    may we recognise you in our midst:
    wounded, bloody, and resurrected

    in spite of our doubts,
    may we know when we come face to face
    with the love that is greater than all deaths

    in spite of our doubts,
    may we reach out to touch the wounds of the world’s pain
    trusting that when grace and love surround them
    they will become part of Christ’s resurrected body.

    and in spite of our doubts,
    may we live as though we are, too.

Next 10 Posts